Realpolitik Returns: Western Leaders Turn Cold On Arab Spring

Analysis: Western euphoria about the popular uprisings in the Arab world is dissipating – and being replaced by fatalism. The Western powers clearly have no master plan to take the reins of the situation, and in the end, Iran may end up benefiting the mos

Protestors in Tahir, Egypt (Jan. 30, 2011)
Protestors in Tahir, Egypt (Jan. 30, 2011)
Richard Herzinger

BERLIN - At the height of the giddiness over the fall of the Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt, leading German politicians were putting themselves through the wringer. Too long had the West dealt with Arab despots based on the false assumption that only they could guarantee "stability" in the explosive Middle East. From now on, support of human rights and democracy had to form the basis of a values-oriented foreign policy.

Only a few months later, these views, at least as far as government parties are concerned, appear to have been erased from memory. It's as if this spring's revolutions, which didn't shake up just the Arab world, had never taken place. Now, it's all about the controversial planned sales of tanks by Germany to Saudi Arabia. That golden oldie, "realpolitik," is back. Of course, "human rights considerations must play a role, but international security interests take priority," says German Minister of Defense Thomas de Maizière, adding that Saudi Arabia is "one of the most important anchors of stability in the region."

The opposition would be a good deal more credible in its indignation about the tank deal if it had also complained when the German government refused participation in the military intervention to protect Libyan revolutionaries against mass murders perpetrated by Muammar Gaddafi's forces. Or if it kicked in full-on about the West's ongoing inaction in the face of Syrian death and torture squads acting against its own people.

Western political elites are secretly hoping there may be some respite, just a short breather, from the Arabic revolution, which is becoming overwhelming. This second phase of the "Arab Spring" bears no resemblance to the high-flying expectations awakened by those great marches to freedom spawned by the overthrow of the Tunisian and Egyptian governments.

From Bahrain to Yemen, Libya to Syria, those first bursts of exhilaration have turned to bloody conflict, and there is widening dissatisfaction among Egyptians with the transition. It has also become clear that the irreversible changes in the region have not ushered in a peaceful and prosperous Golden Age, but rather years if not decades of volatile and potentially extremely violent fights to establish new – and unknown – orders.

The mood of the public in the West is shifting from projected, and often exaggerated, hopes for the Middle East to fatalism. Because NATO bombing in Libya has not yielded instant capitulation from Gaddafi, and Libyan rebels haven't yet come up with a road map to ensure liberal democracy after Gaddafi is gone, many Western pundits have taken to reflecting on a supposedly senseless war. The tenacity of NATO's involvement has, however, brought Gaddafi's fall that much nearer, although admittedly what happens afterwards as Libya tries to forge its future will be no piece of cake. Yet who would seriously argue that Gaddafi should have been left to his own murderous devices to quell the situation so that, order restored, the West could sit down at the same table with him again?

Democratization is more important than stability

As the despotic Sunni regimes fall, the West is increasingly aware of the extent of strategic changes in store for the Middle East. Fear is growing that Iran (and even more, an Iran with atomic weapons) will have the most to gain from this. There is much to be said for ensuring balance by equipping the Saudis with modern weapons – an approach reflected in recent U.S. policy as well.

It would be disastrous to bind realpolitik at any price with the recent fetishistic fixation on "stability." Going back to the old order is not in the cards -- but neither is the drafting of a master plan that would give the West a way to drive future developments in the region. The situations in the various countries concerned are far too diverse and volatile for that.

However, instead of running after situations as they develop, the West must actively steer the inevitable changes in the direction of freedom and the rule of law. It must establish and focus on priorities that have a positive influence on the global development of the region, such as the further democratization of Egypt through strong civil and secular government and institutions, and binding Libya to the West once Gaddafi is gone.

Among the rampant risks of the present Middle Eastern situation also lie unsuspected opportunities. Israel is presently under much less international pressure than it had before the various regional uprisings. No longer are Western governments alone in seeing Israel as an island of stability in a sea of excessive violence and threatening unpredictability.

Even Turkey, eager to boost its image as a hardboiled opponent of "Zionism" and protector of the Palestinians, has at least temporarily de-escalated its tone with regard to Israel. That's the only way to interpret Turkey's withdrawal from the "Gaza Flotilla." Only a year ago Turkish authorities were using the flotilla as an anti-Israel propaganda tool. Ankara's Islamic government has also had to come to terms with the fact that it bet on the wrong horses by wooing Syria and Libya – at a cost of billions to the Turkish economy. To normalize business dealings with Israel would certainly be more lucrative.

This situation offers the West the chance to involve Turkey in joint strategic plans for the Middle East. Tragically, it is just at this decisive period of transition in the region that the United States and Europe are in the throes of massive debt crises that not only reduce their scope for negotiation but make financial support increasingly unpopular. Yet for the West to turn its back on the Middle East could, in the long term, cost it infinitely more than any investment in the future they might make now.

Read the original story in German

Photo - Floris Van Cauwelaert

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council

Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire

The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke

During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press

Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!